book: The Art Forger (2012) by B.A. Shapiro


The cover of The Art Forger is filled with encomia such as that it’s “a clever, twisty novel about art, authenticity, love, and betrayal” and “a provocative meditation on what we value most,” that it “will . . . leave you with a new appreciation of how paintings are made, evaluated, and understood — not to mention how they’re copied” and even that it’s “great for book discussion groups.”

All of which might tend to obscure the fact that what it really is is a topnotch thriller that had me gripped from start to finish.

Moreover, it’s a thriller that achieves its thrills without resort to fisticuffs and mayhem, or even much by the way of crime. Yes, an important part of the backstory is the (real life) heist in 1990 of thirteen artworks from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a crime that has never been solved, and the main story concerns an act of copying that might or might not be criminal; but what kept me turning the pages at feverish speed was Continue reading


Fortress (1985 TVM)

Australia / 88 minutes / color / Crawford, HBO, UIP Dir: Arch Nicholson Pr: Raymond Menmuir Scr: Everett De Roche Story: Fortress (1980) by Gabrielle Lord Cine: David Connell Cast: Rachel Ward, Sean Garlick, Rebecca Rigg, Robin Mason, Marc Gray, Beth Buchanan, Asher Keddie, Bradley Meehan, Anna Crawford, Richard Terrill, Peter Hehir, David Bradshaw, Vernon Wells, Roger Stephen, Elaine Cusick, Laurie Moran, Ray Chubb, Wendy Playfair, Ed Turley, Nick Waters, Terence Donovan.

Gabrielle Lord’s novel, the source for this movie was itself loosely based on a real event, the kidnapping in 1972 by Edwin John Eastwood and (supposedly) Robert Clyde Boland of a young teacher, Mary Gibbs, and six of her pupils from the Faraday School in rural Victoria, Australia, demanding a huge ransom for their return. The affair was a cause célèbre at the time, especially after Gibbs managed to free herself and her charges from captivity. You can read all about the case—and about its bizarre aftermath, wherein Eastwood managed to escape from prison in 1976 and kidnap another rural teacher and her pupils—at Wikipedia. Wikipedia also has a useful; article about another, similar, case, this time in 1976 in Chowchilla, California. The latter crime may have drawn some inspiration from the movie DIRTY HARRY (1971).

Rachel Ward as schoolmarm Sally Jones.

In the movie adaptation of Lord’s novel (which I haven’t read and plan not to), young Sally Jones (Ward) teaches nine children of various ages and abilities in her one-classroom school in the middle of nowhere, Australia.

One morning three criminals masked as pop-culture characters Continue reading

book: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (2005) by Lauren Willig


Since the last novel I read (Martha Cooley’s The Archivist) was pretty intense, I decided I needed to tackle next a piece of froth, which led me to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Q: Is The Secret History of the Pink Carnation froth?
A: You bet.
Q: Absolute froth?
A: Frothier than that.
Q: Frothier than a badly poured pint?
A: Definitely.
Q: The frothiest book you’ve ever read?
A: Quite possibly. Certainly the frothiest that I can recall reading.
Q: So. Really quite frothy, you’re saying?
A: You’re finally getting the message . . .

The conceit of this novel is that Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel, was a genuine historical character. When he hung up his boots, his place was taken by his sidekick, who adopted the nom de guerre of the Purple Gentian. But postgrad Harvard history student Eloise Kelly knows the Purple Gentian was in his turn superseded by Continue reading

Night Train to Munich (1940)

vt In Disguise; vt Night Train
UK / 95 minutes / bw / Twentieth Century, MGM Dir: Carol Reed Pr: Edward Black Scr: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder Story: Gordon Wellesley Cine: Otto Kanturek Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison, Paul von Hernried (i.e., Paul Henreid), Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, James Harcourt, Felix Aylmer, Wyndham Goldie, Roland Culver, Eliot Makeham, Raymond Huntley, Austin Trevor, Kenneth Kent, C.V. France, Fritz Valk, Morland Graham, Irene Handl.

Set in the days immediately leading up to the declaration of war between the UK and Germany, and made before the full horrors were known of what was going on under the Reich, this movie has an obvious propaganda agenda; yet it’s a fine thriller in its own right, leavened with some well judged humor. With a director like Carol Reed and stars like Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison, Paul Henreid and of course the Naunton Wayne/Basil Radford combo, one would hardly expect otherwise.


Margaret Lockwood and James Harcourt as Anna and Axel Bomasch.

Continue reading

book: The Archivist (1998) by Martha Cooley


A novel that initially enthralled me through the beautiful clarity of its writing and then through the patterns of parallels in its network of a plot; even so, I was hardly prepared for the emotional devastation of its finale.

Matt, in his mid-60s, is a senior archivist in the library of an unnamed university. Among the sealed (“not to be opened until . . .”) archives he supervises, the pearl must be the collection of letters between poet T.S. Eliot and the love of his life, Emily Hale. One day a graduate student, Roberta, comes to ask Matt if she might view the Hale correspondence; naturally he refuses her, because the cache isn’t due to be opened for decades yet, but he’s nevertheless fascinated by her, even though she’s half his age, and the two begin a quirky friendship.

The root of his fascination is that Roberta strongly reminds him of his long-dead wife Judith, who spent the last years of her life in Continue reading

Lady Scarface (1941)

US / 66 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Frank Woodruff Pr: Cliff Reid Scr: Arnaud D’Usseau, Richard Collins Cine: Nicholas Musuraca Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Judith Anderson, Frances Neal, Mildred Coles, Eric Blore, Marc Lawrence, Damian O’Flynn, Andrew Tombes, Marion Martin, Rand Brooks, Arthur Shields, Lee Bonnell, Harry Burns, Horace MacMahon, Huntley Gordon.

All that the cops have learned about the Slade Gang is that its leader is a guy called Slade. Little do they know that Slade isn’t a man, as they assume, but a ruthless dame (Anderson) . . . a ruthless dame with a scar on her face.

Judith Anderson as Slade.

When the gang travel from their home turf, New York, to pull off a heist at the Pierce company in Chicago, knocking off James A. Pierce (Gordon) in the process, Chicago cop Lieutenant Bill Mason (O’Keefe) is sent to New York to Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading during February 2019

Again, a moderate haul for the month; there was an abandonment in the mix as well. For much of February it seemed to me as if I were having somewhat mediocre luck with my selections but, looking back, that was a false impression: there were quite a few goodies and no real stinkers—nothing poor at all, in fact.

Without any real intention on my part, a color theme emerged during the month.

If it’s remotely of interest, the Rees, the Lethem, the Buchholz, the Hughes, the Piper and the McAlpine were the ones I enjoyed the most.

As usual, the links lead to the Goodreads postings of my notes, all of which were crossposted here.

Mystery Road (2013)

Australia / 121 minutes / color / Bunya, Mystery Road, Screen Australia, ABC Dir & Scr & Cine: Ivan Sen Pr: David Jowsey Cast: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson, Tony Barry, Robert Mammone, Tasma Walton, Damian Walshe-Howling, David Field, Bruce Spence, Jack Charles, Tricia Whitton, Siobhan Binge, Daniel Roberts, Samara Weaving, Zoe Carides, Roy Billing, Jarrah Louise Bundle, Lillian Crombie, Angela Swan, Geoff Potter, Hayden Spencer.

A splendid reminder that the spirit of dark rural noir is alive and well in Australia.

Detective Jay Swan (Pedersen), recently returned to his small hometown in Queensland, picks up the case of a young indigenous girl, Julie Mason (uncredited), found murdered by Massacre Creek on the outskirts of town. Facing resistance from the indigenous community because he’s seen as having sold out to their daily persecutors, the cops, and from the white community, where racism is to a greater or lesser extent rife, Jay slowly unfolds a criminal ring involving cocaine, teenage prostitution and the murders of far more than just a single girl.

Aaron Pedersen as Jay.

Hugo Weaving as Johnno.

Worse for him, it seems that some in the police department, including the senior undercover cop we know only as Johnno (Hugo Weaving) and even the sergeant (Barry) who runs the department, may be in on the scheme.

And there’s worse still: some evidence could indicate that Continue reading

Step Down to Terror (1958)

US / 76 minutes / bw / Universal International Dir: Harry Keller Pr: Joseph Gershenson Scr: Mel Dinelli, Czenzi Ormonde, Chris Cooper (i.e., Sy Gomberg) Story: Gordon McDonell Cine: Russell Metty Cast: Colleen Miller, Charles Drake, Rod Taylor, Josephine Hutchinson, Jocelyn Brando, Alan Dexter, Rickey Kelman.

Alfred Hitchcock has been reported as saying that SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten, was his own personal favorite of all his movies. It’s safe to say that this remake—the first of two in the English language, the other (which I haven’t seen) being Strange Homecoming (1974 TVM) dir Lee H. Katzin, with Robert Culp, Glen Campbell and Tara Talboy—isn’t as good as Hitchcock’s version, but it does have some strengths; it’d be erroneous to dismiss it as just a lukewarm imitation.

After an absence of six years, Johnny Walters (Drake)—for some reason called Johnny Williams in the closing credits—returns to the small California town of his birth, Middletown, to stay with his widowed mom, Sarah Walters (Hutchinson), his widowed sister-in-law, Helen Walters (Miller), and Helen’s young son Doug (Kelman).

Charles Drake as Johnny.

At first Helen finds herself attracted to the genial, open-handed Johnny, but then odd things start happening to make her uneasy in his presence. Matters come to a head when Continue reading

book: Woman with a Blue Pencil (2015) by Gordon McAlpine


Japanese-American art prof and amateur PI Sam Sumida is watching the new movie called The Maltese Falcon at his local LA fleapit one night — the night before, although he doesn’t yet know this, the Pearl Harbor attack — when the film breaks. Moments later, when the image is restored, he’s watching a completely different movie: now it’s the Hepburn/Tracy comedy Woman of the Year.

And, as he discovers when he reels out into the night, two months or so have passed during the projectionist’s interruption of service. Japanese-Americans are now regularly beaten up by Good Ol’ Boy “patriots,” and will soon face relocation into internment camps. Worse still, he discovers there’s no evidence that until this moment he ever existed in this not-so-brave new world: he seems to have arrived in a lonely place, one that looks uncannily like his old haunt but is different in so many ways.

Worse still, this new world knows nothing of Sam’s loved if unfaithful wife Kyoko, whose eventually murder spurred him into ditching his academic post to embrace private detection.

What could possibly have happened?
Continue reading